posted by Joe Anaya on April 16th, 2012

I walked by the TV while my wife was watching American Idol and one of the contestants was named Phil Phillips. Phillip Phillips. What horrible and/or lazy parents. One of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made was what to name my son. I had no idea how hard it would be.

Our name is something we carry throughout our lives. It forms part of our identity. People make immediate and subconscious associations about us by our names. Giving us an advantage or disadvantage throughout life. So, the name we choose can make the difference between our child becoming a Fortune 500 CEO or a part-time employee at a smoke shop.

Everyone knows to avoid names associated with world-wide bad things. I’m sure there weren’t many Adophs after WWII. But also no family bad things: not after the crazy uncle that went to jail for robbing a lingerie store. Also avoid names associated with personal bad things: I knew a kid named Dusty, he used to eat erasers. And then there’s proximity to consider: you can’t name your kid the same name as your brother’s kid, or neighbor’s kid, or anyone you know who just had a kid.

I’m not a fan of theme names. Every kid’s name starts with a J. I don’t particularly like word play names, except Merry when your last name is Christmas. Let’s face it, if your last name is Christmas, you’re already carrying a burden so embrace it. Norway has laws protecting children from terrible names and provides an officially approved list of names parent’s can chose from, but that seems philosophically un-American. However, there should be a special hell reserved for parents who turn their kid’s name into an opportunity for a joke. The Texas politician, Big Jim Hogg, named his daughter after a character in her Uncle’s epic poem, The Fate of Marvin. He chose the name Ima. Yes, she went through life as Ima Hogg.

Making up names seems unnecessary. There are plenty of good names. I was told of a pediatrician who ran across a child La-a. “Oh Lah-ah, what a pretty name,” she told the mother. The mother laughed and said, “It’s not Lah-ah, it’s La-dash-sha.” I made the man swear on his mother’s grave it was a true story. (I’m still not convinced.)

Even without that ridiculousness, there’s “what will his name become.” My name is Joseph but no matter how hard I tried, I always ended up Joe. (Only my family still calls me Joseph.) So, you may love the name Zachary, but he’s going to be called Zack. Do you still love it? I knew a Rodrick Buck, yep, he was known as Rod Buck and he’s not a porn star.

Of course you have to look for hidden meanings: initials that turn out to be A.S.S. or short names that become embarrassing. What were the parents of the Indiana politician Harry Baals thinking? Matt W. saved his friends, Mr. & Mrs. Rhea, from naming their son Conner. In all their deliberating, they never said the first and last name together, out loud. Conner Rhea.

But at some point, you can’t worry too much about how a name will get converted to a nickname, especially if your child is a boy, because boys hand out nicknames like meter maids hand out parking tickets. I knew a kid with a red-haired afro named Mark. So of course, we called him Duracell (the copper top). Then he got a bad infection in a front tooth and we called him Hendrix, because the tooth had a “purple haze.” I play basketball with a big guy who has shoulder length hair, of course we called him Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Until he got a knee brace and had to run awkwardly down court and some one yelled, “Run, Forest, Run.” Now he’s Forest. I knew a guy who has been C-fer, Sack and Chewy throughout our friendship, and none of them are even close to the name his parents picked for him.

Of all the pitfalls of parenting, who would have thought the first decision after deciding to have a child (if it was a decision) would be the most far reaching and impactful. Your child will one day appreciate that you weren’t lazy or funny or at least said the full name out loud. Your kids may actually thank you later in life.



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